Aid to TB patients in North Korea: healing has “no border”

The Eugene Bell Foundation provides medicines and food for 1,500 patients in 12 centres. For more than twenty years, Fr Hammond, aka Father Grandfather, and the NGO have helped North Korean patients.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – "If they’re suffering, why shouldn’t we be there?" asked Fr Gerard Hammond, regional superior of the Maryknoll missionaries in Korea, speaking about the Eugene Bell Foundation, a Christian charity that every six months provides medical drugs and food to some 1,500 tuberculosis patients in North Korea.

According to South Korean media, the humanitarian situation in the socialist country is increasingly severe. The health conditions of a defector who recently crossed the border between the two Koreas highlighted the hardships experienced by North Koreans.

In this context, some charities provide humanitarian aid, and South Korea often plays an important role in helping its neighbour.

The Eugene Bell Foundation helps 1,500 patients in 12 centres in four provinces, sending medicines and food for six months. The NGO has been doing this for more than twenty years.

On 7 November, Fr Hammond, along with other missionaries and the Foundation’s president, visited patients in North Korea.

"When we arrived, the medicines had already been cleared by customs,” he said. “We had no problems handing them out them."

Over his many trips, the clergyman has established a rapport of trust with the people in the centres.

“Since I’m the oldest of the group, 84 years old, they call me Father Grandfather,” the missionary said. “I’ve known them for years, this is my 53rd time.”

“They know who I am, I feel comfortable with them, and they feel comfortable with me. We don’t discuss political issues or religion. We’re there purely for humanitarian reasons.”

Last month’s visit occurred despite tensions between North Korea and the international community, sparked by the threats of Pyongyang and Washington, and by the new sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council.

“For healing there is no border,” Fr Hammond explained. “These people are sick; we don’t make any distinctions. To me, it’s an important matter that we try to save these people, that we provide them with life and hope.”